You don’t need to be told Halloween is on Saturday night. You’ve already bought your costume for this year — a sexy pizza rat, natch. But after the partying’s over and you’re back home, you’re going to want to kick back with a scary movie or two and some pie, sexy rat not necessarily included. Here are our suggestions for Halloween 2015.
When Canadian director Bruce McDonald last took a dip in the horror-movie pool with 2008’s Pontypool, he managed to transform the zombie genre into a metaphor concerning a breakdown in verbal communication via talk radio. This time the director uses Halloween as the backdrop for another haunted claustrophobic tale. A high school student Dora (Chloe Rose) decides to spend the night at home watching TV while her mother and brother go out. As she fritters away the hours, Dora, who only recently discovered she was pregnant — it wasn’t planned — receives a visit from some malevolent trick-or-treaters hellbent on tormenting her. From the moment one of the intruders presses their hand on her stomach, the full weight of motherhood hits Dora, much like it does in the horror classic The Brood and the much-ballyhooed The Babadook. When Hellions pays homage to past horror films — like the creepy, children-chanting soundtrack in Children of the Corn, the surreal and desolate imagery of The Beyond, and the terrifying threat of a demonic baby, a la Rosemary’s Baby, the nostalgia runs thick, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, McDonald makes his point made midway through the film, and as a result, the rest feels like padding for Hellions already scant running time.
While we’re on the subject of child endangerment, the little 2014 Belgian scarefest Cub is a delight in its own special little way. As we begin, a Cub Scout troop is heading off on a camping trip in the middle of nowhere. On the way there, the counselors tell the kids the tale of a werewolf boy named Kai that haunts the woods. While it serves as a mischief-making deterrent for the wee ones, it turns out that the story isn’t too far from the truth. One of the scouts, Sam (Maurice Luijten), is the outcast of the group, and when the other scouts aren’t picking on him, one of the scout leaders, Baloo (Stef Aerts) is. Once the film decides to ditch any relationship to reality, Cub takes a pretty dark turn down “Holy shit, did they just do that?” road. Fair warning to animal lovers: there’s a cute pitbull named Zoltan who serves as a vital plot point in the film. It doesn’t end well for him.
In Room 237, director Rodney Ascher explored the various theories revolving around the production of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. In The Nightmare, Ascher delves into sleep paralysis, a medical condition in which its sufferers are unable to move as they go in or out of their sleep. Relying on first-hand accounts and re-enactments of their stories, Ascher is able to submerse the audience into the horror of their existence. The sight of a shadowy being looming over a bed while its powerless victims lies there in shock has never been so unsettling. Though the eight stories are captivating, the whole affair starts to wear thin after about an hour since Ascher seems content to only pose questions about sleep paralysis rather than actually seek out expert testimony from someone with in-depth knowledge. Aside from a few basic facts regarding what exactly occurs during sleep paralysis, the viewer will not walk away from the film with much more information than that.
Do you like metal? Do you like over-the-top gore? Do you like New Zealand? Then you may like Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm. When a metalhead named Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) starts a band called Deathgasm with his new friend Zakk (James Blake), he does it to get a few frustrations off his chest and catch the eye of a comely lass named Medina (Kimberley Crossman). Unfortunately, when the band rehearses the sheet music of a former rock god, they release a gang of demon spirits to terrorize Brodie’s small New Zealand hometown. What follows are gore-tastic scenes that recall Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive and Bad Taste. With all the heads that get ripped apart, the entrails that are strewn, and the guitars that are used as actual axes, it would be easy to dismiss Deathgasm as merely another example of an extremely gory movie if it weren’t for the fact that Howden imbues the film’s characters with heart.
Tales of Halloween
Whereas a full-length horror flick can overstate it’s point (i.e. Hellions, The Nightmare), an anthology horror film like Creepshow is a perfect example of how great the short story format serves the horror genre. With Tales of Halloween, we get 10 short stories with intermittent narration by a radio DJ. The film sets off the tone perfectly with David Parker’s “Sweet Tooth,” a cautionary tale about eating too much candy. Vengeance is served in “The Weak and the Wicked” and “Trick.” Two Halloween enthusiasts clash in “This Means War” while a couple kidnappers get more than they bargained for in “The Ransom of Rusty Rex.” A trick-or-treater and a mischievous Beelzebub pull mean-spirited pranks in Darren Lynn Bousman’s (Saw II-V, Repo! The Genetic Opera) “The Night Billy Raised Hell.” Mike Mendez (The Convent, Big Ass Spider) manages to skewer possession and slasher cliches in “Friday The 31st.” A vengeful spirit may be on the prowl in Axelle Carolyn’s short “Grim Grinning Ghost.” In “Ding Dong,” Lucky McKee (May, The Woman) offers his twist on the Hansel and Gretel story. In the vein of Gremlins, a killer Jack-o’-Lantern goes on a townspeople-eating rampage in “Bad Seed,” the entry by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers) that closes the film. More often than not, these short stories achieve their entertainment goals. It never hurts that each film is brimming with appearances by genre directors (John Landis, Joe Dante, Mick Garris) and thespians (Lin Shaye, Adrienne Barbeau, Barry Bostwick).
Ninja III: The Domination
Normally when one thinks of ninjas, the word “horror” doesn’t come to mind. That didn’t stop Cannon Films from hiring Sam Firstenberg to direct this loose 1984 follow-up to its semi-profitable Ninja series. Rather than go for straight-up action, the Cannon gang rehires martial artist Sho Kosugi, star of the previous films, for a possession film. Previously known to fans as Kelly from the Breakin’ duology, Lucinda Dickey stars as Christie, a woman who works hard for the money. When she isn’t teaching an aerobics class, Christie is repairing telephone lines. This all changes when she’s possessed by the spirit of a vengeful ninja recently gunned down while running amok on a golf course. Along with a golf course massacre, we are treated to a host of amazing treats such as a haunted arcade game, a dance-off against the forces of evil, and a failed attempt at eroticism involving V-8 juice. Needless to say, this isn’t a scary movie whatsoever, but invite over a couple of smart-ass friends, buy a case of the best, and a good time will be had by all.
Trick ‘r Treat
If there was ever a film that screamed “I’m not John Carpenter’s Halloween but you should watch me around Halloween,” Trick ‘r Treat is it. Michael Dougherty’s 2007 anthology is the cinematic embodiment of All Hallows Eve. It’s adoration of the holiday is even akin to It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Sam, a mischievous demon boy from the pumpkin patch, acts as the enforcer of all things Halloween and the purveyor of the film’s four interconnected stories (a la Pulp Fiction) about a disgruntled principal (Dylan Baker), a town legend, a frustrated virgin (Anna Paquin), and a neighborhood shut-in (Brian Cox). Coming in at under 90 minutes, this fast-moving anthology knows how to balance pitch-black humor and genuine scares while cleverly decorating every scene with pumpkins, candy corn, fall leaves, and other Halloween visuals, giving the entire proceedings a feeling of childlike wonderment.